Speech by Senior Minister of State for Education, Mr Chee Hong Tat, at the Launch of the Skillsfuture Festival, at University Cultural Centre Theatre

Published Date: 28 June 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. A very good morning to everyone. I am glad to join you in celebrating the launch of the second SkillsFuture Festival.

Introduction: Our SkillsFuture Journey

2. The SkillsFuture Festival is an annual event where we celebrate skills mastery and the pursuit of lifelong learning. It is a good opportunity to take stock of the progress that we have made together on our SkillsFuture journey.

3. I am happy to report that since the launch of SkillsFuture in 2015, there have been three positive developments.

4. First, more individuals and enterprises are recognising the importance of lifelong learning. The national adult training participation rate has increased significantly from 35% in 2015 to 48% in 2018. At the same time, there are encouraging signs of higher enterprise participation in training, with the number of enterprises tapping on SkillsFuture Singapore’s (SSG’s) training subsidies increasing from about 9,000 in 2011 to around 12,000 in 2018.

5. Second, enterprises are placing greater value on skills and adjusting their hiring practices to reflect this shift. The Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM’s) Job Vacancy Survey found that 52% of job openings for professionals, managers, executives and technicians in 2018 did not consider academic qualification as the main factor, up from 42% in 2017. It shows that employers are looking beyond academic qualifications when they hire people. I hope this percentage can increase further, including in the Public Service, as we move from a society that emphasises academic qualifications to one centred on skills.

6. Third, individuals and enterprises alike have reaped benefits from their investment in skills training. A recent Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) study showed that between 2011 and 2014, trainees who completed WSQ Full Qualification were 2.6 percentage-points more likely to be employed in the year after their training.

7. Similarly, trainees who completed their WSQ training received higher wages from their employers. Between 2011 and 2014, WSQ full qualification trainees experienced a real wage premium of 5.8 per cent on average in the year after training. We are doing further studies to look at more recent data as well, and I am confident that the trends will be similar.

8. Additionally, MOM’s Employer-Supported Training Survey found that 92% of employers reported that training had a significant positive impact on improving their employees’ skills.

9. These outcomes are encouraging for our SkillsFuture “report card”, but our journey has just begun. There are more areas we can improve together with our tripartite partners, to make lifelong learning and skills upgrading a core part of our societal DNA, and an integral component of our enterprise transformation efforts.

What’s Next for SkillsFuture: Helping Enterprises Transform

10. So what’s next for SkillsFuture? We want to focus the next phase of SkillsFuture on helping enterprises to transform. Enterprise transformation and skills training go hand-in-hand. I am heartened to know that more employers are investing in training their workers. But the progress so far has been uneven. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are investing less than larger companies when it comes to training. They employ about 70% of our workforce, but make up only one-third of employer-supported training. This trend was also highlighted by the National Wages Council in their recent report.

11. For our broad middle-tier of SMEs to upgrade their capabilities and enhance their competitiveness, we have to do better when it comes to worker training. Otherwise, the skills gap could become a bottleneck that limits economic competitiveness.

Supporting Enterprises to Invest Further in Training

12. A move in this direction was the enhancement of the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) with the SkillsFuture Training Subsidy, which provides $10,000 of training grant to each eligible company. Employers can use this grant to pay for their out-of-pocket training expenses, on top of existing SkillsFuture subsidies which their workers receive. The SkillsFuture course fee subsidies range from 70 to 90 per cent, and this $10,000 is on top of that. Through this initiative, we hope to encourage more employers, especially SMEs, to invest in worker training as part of their enterprise transformation. We want the two to go hand in hand – when you look at solutions to improve productivity, please also look at the skills that your workers will need to be able to make good use of these technological and productivity solutions. $10,000 may not seem much to an MNC, but it could be more significant to an SME. So this scheme is really to help the broad middle-tier of SMEs to be able to transform and train their employees more effectively;

13. I am happy to announce that enterprises which qualify for PSG can start applying for the SkillsFuture Training Subsidy from 1 July 2019. Enterprises that have received their PSG before 1 July are also eligible to apply for this training grant.

Intermediaries as a Conduit for Enterprise Transformation

14. Addressing training cost is important, but it is only part of the solution. Some enterprises – especially SMEs – may need more help with selecting the appropriate set of courses for their workers. This is where intermediaries such as trade associations, banks, IT companies and accounting firms can play a useful role. They know their SME customers well and understand their business requirements, so they can provide tailored programmes to help SMEs digitalise and raise productivity. Skills training is a core part of this enterprise transformation effort, so it is also a natural area where the intermediaries can assist their customers.

15. We will expand our network of intermediaries to include a larger list of organisations. I have set this as a priority for SSG in our next phase of work for SkillsFuture. The intermediaries will contribute to building stronger capabilities in our skills eco-system and help more SMEs in their transformation journey. SSG is prepared to provide funding to these intermediaries to support their work, as we believe this will have an amplified impact on the economy as well.

Engaging Anchor Companies to Uplift SMEs

16. We also recognise that many SMEs may not have the scale or resources to conduct in-house training. This is necessary for sectors which require specialised skills and knowledge, it is not always possible to find external courses which can meet their training needs.

17. Countries like Switzerland have overcome this challenge by working with anchor companies, such as ABB1 and Swatch, to train not only their own workers, but also for the rest of the sector. It may sound counter-intuitive that they would train workers on behalf of their competitors. But we know cooperation and competition are not mutually exclusive – it is possible for companies to cooperate in certain areas while competing in other areas. In the area of training, such a model allows the industry as a whole to attract and train more workers that will benefit all companies. By growing the pie, there is more for everyone to share.

18. Learning from this, we plan to pilot a similar approach in Singapore, and appoint anchor companies to conduct training on behalf of other companies in their sectors. This will help our SMEs to overcome their constraints with scale and resources.

19. The anchor companies will train beyond meeting their own manpower needs and provide training for the entire sector. For example, IBM and SSG are working together to develop a suite of IBM-certified programmes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the sector. IBM and SSG will champion this initiative and drive participation for these AI programmes.

20. Another example is Apple. SSG is partnering Apple to support the workforce’s digital skills development and build a pipeline of skilled manpower, especially in the area of mobile application development. For a start, SSG and Apple collaborated with the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to develop employer-centric programmes using Apple’s Swift curriculum. These include programmes focused on Enterprise Mobility and App Development, as well as work-learn programmes targeted at mobile application developers.

21. Second, we will partner companies with strong influence over their value-chain to identify skills needs and develop training solutions for SMEs within the entire value-chain. For example, Singapore Power Group (SP Group) actively invests in the continuous improvement of the partners they contract. SP Group works with SSG and their contractors – many of them SMEs – to identify common skills needs and co-develop skills-based solutions to improve their workplace learning practices.

22. United Overseas Bank (UOB) is another example. SSG is exploring a potential collaboration with UOB to develop a programme that will help the bank’s SME clients upskill their workforce. UOB sees this as part of its value proposition to complement banking services with business advisory, industry insights, digital solutions and connections to ecosystem partners. Under the potential partnership, selected SME clients with common needs will join a consortium to create customised, skills-based solutions to address their workplace learning and training needs.

23. These are good examples where the Government and companies can work together to benefit the larger business community and help our SMEs. We have made a good start with the above examples, and I hope to see many more of such partnerships over the next few years.

SkillsFuture Festival 2019

24. While we work on uplifting our SMEs, we must not forget that SkillsFuture is ultimately about our people. We will sustain our efforts to empower individuals to learn throughout their lives. The SkillsFuture Festival is a celebration of this lifelong learning journey, and the spirit of continually seeking new knowledge and wisdom.

25. Key highlights of the SkillsFuture Festival 2019 include the Skills Bazaar, Work-Learn Carnival, SkillsFuture Festival@NUS, and the SkillsFuture Fellowship Awards and SkillsFuture Employers Awards Ceremony. The Festival will also feature enterprise-related activities such as SFF@Business Hub, SFF Enterprise Series and SFF Executive Series.

26. To broaden our outreach, the Festival will feature a series of activities organised into learning clusters across the island. Business hubs in Jurong and Changi, as well as Community Development Councils will be hosting various Festival activities throughout the duration of the event. The public can also participate in community-based events co-organised with partners such as NTUC, Singapore Science Centre and Council for Third Age. I urge all of you to participate actively in the range of activities.


27. What I have outlined today captures the spirit of this Government’s approach to work with our enterprises and our people. We will partner our companies to grow our economy and provide good jobs for our people. We will partner our workers to help them upgrade their existing skills and acquire new skills, so that learning does not stop after one leaves school but remains a lifelong endeavour.

28. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared in a recent interview that as we face the risk of a global economic downturn, Singapore should focus on helping our companies build stronger capabilities and helping our workers to train and upgrade their skills. Through SkillsFuture, the Government will support workers and employers in our economic restructuring and transformation efforts. Together, we will forge a path forward for Singapore and build a brighter tomorrow for ourselves and our future generations.

29. I wish everyone a fruitful experience at this year’s SkillsFuture Festival. Thank you.

  1. ASEA (Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget, or General Swedish Electrical Limited Company) Brown Boveri.
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